Today, on Day 3 of Self-published Authors Appreciation Week, I am offering a Spotlight with Simon van der Velde, author of the popular short story anthology Backstories. Simon actually works with a small press, Smoke and Mirrors, rather than being strictly self-published, but for the purposes of promotion he is fairly independent, so I made an executive decision to include his book in this week’s promotional activities!
In Backstories each story features a well-known celebrity or politician but without telling you who it is about. You have to try and figure out which person’s story is being told and some are much more obvious than others! This book is a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys puzzles, mysteries or just excercising their powers of detection while reading.
Hi Simon – welcome back to my blog! I’m glad to see that Backstories has been getting a fair amount of attention and I have seen quite a few reviews posted on Twitter.
My book has been received fantastically well. Backstories has hit the market with a bang. In our first month we outsold Ernest Hemingway in short stories and topped Sherlock Holmes in mystery. I’m amazed. But when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be true. So I am delighted to say, I guess it must be.
I believe you donate some of the profits from sales of your book to charity?
Yes, I’m really proud to be sharing 30% of all profits from Backstories between Stop Hate UK, The North-East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.
Stop Hate UK came out of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and Baroness Lawrence’s response to such wickedness with education is just humbling. I have great admiration for her. I should also add to an element of guilt. There are criminals amongst the characters in my book, and whilst crime is compelling on page, it is anything but that in real life – so I felt giving to Stop Hate UK was a meaningful way to show respect for the victims and their families.
My second charity is The North-East Autism Society. This is more personal. My twelve-year-old son is autistic. That’s why I feel I have to give voice to autistic people who are so badly misunderstood. Autistic people’s brains work differently from the rest of us. This means that they have a lot to offer – Bill Gates is autistic, Albert Einstein and probably Leonardo Da Vinci, amongst many, many others – but because they are different, autistic people can sometimes find our chaotic world so stressful that they just can’t function, and all that potential is lost. So if only for reasons of self-interest, we need to understand and listen to the autistic community – not least, Greta Thunberg.
Which brings me to my third charity – Friends of the Earth – because without the Earth, obviously – nothing else matters…
What type of characters do you include in your stories?
Most of them are my childhood heroes, (and villains), famous people from when I was a kid and even from a little before. For me, there’s something about people from an earlier time that carry an extra aura of mystery, and makes unravelling them all the more compelling.
What was your motivation for writing Backstories?
It began with an urge to understand my heroes, to cut through the shiny, public image bullshit and get to something more meaningful – and maybe get back in touch with how it felt to be seventeen.
The real trigger though, was going to see a musician from way back when. The truth is I was a bit concerned. Would he still be any good? Or just a bit sad? I mean the guy’s well into his seventies.
In fact, he was utterly and completely brilliant. Great voice, great music and above all, great honesty. That gig was my inspiration for this book, and for anything I write. To get to the emotional truth.
So the next day put aside my novel and wrote a little piece about this guy’s life. That might’ve been that, but my wife, Nikki loved it. I told her there was no market for short-stories, but of course, as happens far too often in our house, she was right and I was wrong.
Is there any point to Backstories, beyond just entertainment?
In fact, there are two.
Entertaining people is, I think, a valid reason for any book – but as I say, the point for me is always to seek emotional truth, and the two things are, of course linked. There’s nothing more compelling than heartfelt truth – and nothing more utterly tedious that fakery.
Clearly, the truth of people is that we’re very much closer to our childhood selves than we like to believe. Really, we’re all just kids – with a thin veneer laid on top – fighting our childhood battles over and over again. Why is Trump a narcissist? Why is Elon Musk obsessed with outer-space? Why was Janis Joplin so unable to cope with stardom? Psychology 101 tells us that the answer lies in their childhood – what Backstories does, is, make that truth ‘explode into the reader’s consciousness.’* (as someone said). And that’s the point. I want to make you feel this truth, rather than merely understand it.
Beyond that, of course, there’s another obvious truth that I highlight through the revelation of these characters – that black or white, gay or straight, neuro-typical or not, whoever we are in the great diverse spectrum of life that is who we’re meant to be. We’re all human beings, and with a little effort and a willingness to put aside preconceptions, we can all be understood.
That, in turn, is why my characters are so deliberately diverse.
So you’re saying you write from the point of view of BAME characters? Isn’t that rather presumptuous, to claim to speak for them?
In a way, yes, I guess it is – but that’s my job as a writer, to step into other people’s shoes – and lives – and minds. I need to do that in order to say what I need to say. So no, I don’t buy the idea that I, as a white man can’t write black or female characters, for example. On the other hand, I acknowledge that, in the shadow of history, I have a duty to do so sensitively and respectfully, and above all to do a good job – and I’ve worked hard to achieve that.
Hard as I’ve tried though, I do acknowledge that there’ll always be somebody who might be upset by my writing – and that’s their right. The safest, easiest course might be to avoid controversy of any sort, but then what? All I can ever write about is the experience of being a white, middle-aged man. That doesn’t interest me. Growing up as one of a few hundred Jews in the north of England, I feel I understand prejudice and the damage that it does – and that’s why I have something of value to say about it.
In the end, if I have made presumptions, at least let me say that they are sincerely held.
And finally, Simon – what can we expect to see from you next?
As you know, Backstories II will be out in late Autumn, with work in progress on Backstories Crime, Backstories Jews, Blackstories, Backstories History and Backstories Musicians. I feel that the variety in Backstories adds an element of surprise to the stories, but equally, I understand that for the real music aficionado, (for example), there’s an advantage in having all their heroes in one place – so hopefully, there’ll be something for everyone.
Fantastic – I will look forward to seeing those! Good luck with all of your projects and thank you once again for taking part on my blog!
Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or
their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail
and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?
These are people you know, but not as you know them.
Peel back the mask and see.
Backstories is a unique collection of stories each told from the point of view
of a famous, (or notorious) person at a pivotal moment in their lives. The
writing is literary but accessible and the voices vividly real. The settings are
mostly 60’s and 70’s UK and USA, and the driving themes are inclusion,
social justice and of course, nostalgia – but the real key to these stories is
that the protagonists’ identities are withheld. This means that your job is
to find them, leading to that Eureka moment when you realise whose mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.
About the Author
Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short-story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers. Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.